Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The 'end of Camelot'? Not quite. Rahm gives crooked company new lease on life.

Chicago Public Schools officials are digging out from another Barbara Byrd-Bennett scandal, three years after the former CPS CEO departed the district in disgrace.  -- Chicago Tribune
Camelot CEO Andrew Morrison said in a statement. “We are proud of our track record over the past seven years and of the achievements of our students." -- Unsolicited confession
The top line above is from a July 31st Tribune editorial called, "The end of Camelot at CPS". Camelot is a network of privately-run alternative and charter schools that serve "at risk" students. Their owners have fleeced Chicago Public Schools for more than $67M in bid-rigged contracts over the past decade.

Camelot's operators have long been criticized for their brutal, "prison-like" disciplinary policies directed nearly exclusively at African-American children.

But the title of the editorial is misleading. It's definitely not the "end of Camelot" at CPS. Despite the recent findings of illegal bid-rigging schemes by Camelot and now disgraced and imprisoned Byrd-Bennett that go back to 2014, it looks like the company will be given another run in Chicago at the cost to taxpayers of millions more.

Camelot Education, which still runs six schools for about 850 at-risk students, has agreed to pay a $1M fine. But they dodged a permanent ban on doing any business with CPS as the schools Inspector General Nicholas Schuler had recommended in July when he released his report outlining the misconduct.

The excuse for not shutting down Camelot offered by CPS officials is that, "closing schools and transferring students elsewhere risks disrupting these students’ education. What hypocrisy! If you do the math, six schools for 850 students comes out to about 140 students per school. The board has closed dozens of schools with larger student populations for "underutilization". I guess "disruption" wasn't an issue back then, when it came to public school closings.

According to Lauren Fitzpatrick at the Sun-Times:
Schuler found that Camelot — in order to skirt the district’s procurement rules — paid Byrd-Bennett’s former employers and co-defendants Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas to work as lobbyists to help the company land big contracts to open publicly-funded schools for students who are close to dropping out or have already done so. The emails about the Camelot scheme came to light as Schuler continued to dig through the records that helped imprison Byrd-Bennett, or “B3” as Mayor Rahm Emanuel affectionately called her, along with Solomon and Vranas, in a separate contract-kickback scandal with a principal training firm.
As part of the slap-on-the-wrist $1 million settlement, Camelot will be granted a new CPS contract and submit to a monitor of CPS’ choosing “to ensure Camelot is held responsible for its conduct,” CPS officials said. But the fines under the settlement terms are limited to $1 million, with $700,000 paid directly to CPS and another $300,000 worth of “compensatory services.” A Camelot spokesman said the settlement will be paid over five years.

Camelot must exclude two unnamed officials (why not name them?) from any CPS work during the monitoring term, and subject its executives to training on the school board’s Code of Ethics.

According to Fitzpatrick, CPS also said in July that it would tighten ethics rules for anyone bidding on work, and would publish a searchable database of the additional disclosures on its website. It’s not yet clear whether either has taken place.

All this of course, begs the question. Why does CPS need to contract with privateers in the first place? There's lots of great CPS teachers and 38 boarded up school buildings sitting empty as a result of mass school closings five years ago. Why not provide public education in them for our neediest kids?

Closure of for-profit college campuses ECA long overdue.


No thanks to the do-Nothing U.S. Department of Education, which sides with for-Profit, predatory “colleges,” you know, the market.

For Immediate Release
December 6, 2018
CRL Statement on Closure of Education Corp. of America Campuses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Birmingham, Alabama, based for-profit college owner Education Corporation of America (ECA) has announced that it is closing its campuses across the country after the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) suspended their accreditation. The closure of ECA’s campuses include those operating as Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute, Golf Academy of America, and Virginia College. More than 19,000 students were enrolled at ECA owned colleges.

Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Senior Policy Counsel Whitney Barkley-Denney released the following statement:

“ECA’s closure is long overdue. Their campuses, including Virginia College, has a long record of providing substandard education at exorbitant prices. For years, CRL and other education advocates have sounded the alarm to federal and state governments about the risks and harms associated with predatory, underperforming for-profit colleges. Students who were lured to an ECA campus should have their loans discharged as they decide their next education path—being straddled with crippling student loan debt after their college failed them shouldn’t be a burden that they have to carry.”


For more information or to schedule an interview with a CRL spokesperson please email: ricardo.quinto@responsible

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Merrow's book shines a light on Deborah Kenny's charter schools

Deborah Kenny

Former NPR and PBS journalist, John Merrow's book, Addicted to Reform, reveals how corporate reformers and greedy charter school hustlers, exploit the language of school reform to enrich themselves at the expense of the public.

The best-known of these, of course, is New York's Eva Moskowitz, who pays herself $567K/year to manage Harlem's Success Academies with 11,000 students. When she lost out to Betsy DeVos in the race to become Trump's Secretary of Education, I referred to her as "charter schools biggest hustler", but apparently I was wrong.

Merrow says that Moskowitz pales in comparison to Deborah Kenny, the founder of Harlem
Village Academies who pays herself with public tax money on a par with Moskowitz to run her charter which enrolls only 1,400 students. Compare that to New York City's public schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, who presides over the largest school system in the nation, with 1.1 million students and is paid $345K per year.
Like Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies, this network loses a lot of students, but, unlike Success Academies, the students who stay perform poorly...This same charter network has famously high turnover rates among teachers. In the most recent report, 38 percent of teachers departed—nearly four out of every ten teachers. In another school, 31 percent left. One thing that students in high-poverty schools need is continuity, which they apparently do not get in this network. Oh, by the way, the CEO who makes all that money also has her own car and driver. 
 Somehow, writes Merrow,  I suspect she’s happy to have Eva Moskowitz taking all the flack in the media about harsh discipline and high turnover rates, because that means her network’s performance is not being scrutinized.  It clearly should be.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bill Daley gets big money from school privatizer Finnegan

Paul Finnegan
Bill Daley, who recently jumped into the Chicago mayor's race just received $200,000 from Paul Finnegan, co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners investment firm (net worth $1.8B). Through his Finnegan Family Foundation, he's been a major underwriter of Chicago's privately-run charter schools and school privatizers.

He's been one of the biggest donors to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS). He sits on the board of Teach for America, Inc. and has given millions to KIPP, Noble and other Chicago charter school networks. He's also a big backer of the union-busting group, Stand For Children.

Madison Dearborn had been among Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s most reliable campaign contributors for years. Three executives, including Finnegan, dumped $705,000 into Emanuel’s campaign in June, three months before Emanuel chose political retirement over the uphill battle for a third term.

Finnegan's support for Daley could spell trouble for candidate Paul Vallas the other big charter supporter in the race.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth makes a killing in AZ charters

Arizona State Rep. EddieFarnsworth
Arizona Rep. Eddie Farnsworth is just the latest charter school operator to use charter schools as his own personal ATM – one that shoots out public funds, writes Laurie Roberts in the Sept. 11th Arizona Republic. 

 Farnsworth figured out a way to sell his Primavera online charter school business – the one built with taxpayer funds – and make millions on the deal and then likely get himself hired to continue running the operation. He's converted his charter to a non-profit and thus will no longer have to pay property or income taxes.

Sweet plan. Sickeningly so, says Roberts, when you consider that Farnsworth is making his millions off of tax money intended to be used to educate Arizona children.

The Republic’s Craig Harris has spent all year reporting on operators who are getting rich – or at least, making a tidy pile of cash – off publicly funded charter schools, aided by laughable state laws that require hardly any oversight or accountability.
It is a system that allows charter operators like Farnsworth to use taxpayer money to build their private businesses and then turn themselves into millionaires doing things that would send regular public school administrators to prison.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Amazon's Bezos jumps into the school privatization biz. Sees children as 'customers'.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, now considered to be the world’s richest man, took to Twitter Thursday to announce that he and his wife Mackenzie are investing $2 billion to launch new preschools in poor, black and Latino communities.

Bezos vowed to build an organization that will start and operate the preschools, adding that, “I’m excited about that because it will give us the opportunity to learn, invent, and improve.”

Yes, a great opportunity for Bezos.

In the new preschools, “the child will be the customer,” Bezos wrote, a rare use of the business concept about preschoolers. Bezos promised to apply the same principles that have driven Amazon—most important among them, “a genuine, intense customer obsession.”

In July, Bloomberg declared that Bezos was not just the richest man in the world, but the “richest man in modern history” when his net worth exceeded $150 billion.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Duncan cooling his political heels at DreamBox, Inc.

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

His billionaire patrons don't really know what to do with Arne Duncan. He left Obama's Dept. of Education in a mess. His snarky comments about the white suburban opt-out moms may have helped Trump win the election. His ill-conceived Race To The Top "reforms", underwritten by Bill Gateswere a flop by all measures of reform. And before resigning, Duncan feathered his nest by sending millions of dollars in federal funds to Chicago charter school operators.

When Duncan did arrive back in town, the city's elite immediately began a Duncan clean-up and rebranding operation to lay the groundwork for a Duncan run for political office. There was even talk of him running for mayor in place of Rahm Emanuel.

He was given a cushy, high-paying job at the Emerson Collective by heiress Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple founder, Steve Jobs. There, he got help writing his requisite book, “How Schools Work,” in which he claims that public schools are "run on lies".

But as a one reviewer noted:
"Duncan spends hardly any pages embedded in schools or talking to teachers, principals or students...Duncan heads off to high-end addresses in the Loop, and later D.C., determined to roll out reforms that hold a mirror of truth to the broken system. But what, then? We don't learn how the surgical decisions being made at high altitudes end up impacting classrooms in cities like Chicago, Baltimore or Detroit...
As all around us swirls the fever for school choice, we don't learn much about the outcomes of pushing for options beyond traditional schools, such as charters, which Duncan championed when he ran Chicago's school system. And we don't learn how some schools in high-poverty neighborhoods beat such odds and send their Calvins to college — stories that really illustrate how good public schools work in the era of limited resources and vast income inequality.
As things have turned out so far, Duncan's return came too late for a run for governor and as you may have noticed, Rahm is still running for mayor. He hasn't dropped out to make room for Arne as was rumored only a month ago.

So where to next? The answer came this week when Duncan was named to the Board of Directors of Dreambox Learning, Inc.

According to Edweek's Marketplace K-12,
The digital math company DreamBox Learning has picked up a massive infusion of capital—$130 million—from an investment group, and it has added a big name to its board of directors: Arne Duncan.
DreamBox announced Tuesday that it is the recipient of that substantial monetary infusion from The Rise Fund, a global investment company that seeks financial returns from its support for social and environmental causes.
The $130M from Rise is its largest-ever education investment and allows it to take a majority position in DreamBox. The Rise Fund counts Jobs, Netflix founder and right-wing school privatizer, Reed Hastings, and Duncan's long-time Chicago ed-business mentor, John Rogers (Ariel Investments) among its investors.

As you might have guessed, DreamBox is Apple (IOS)-based, not PC.

So Duncan will have to cool his political heels at DreamBox, using his DOE connections to sell another bullshit math program to schools and districts that don't want it or need it and making sure his patrons get a good return on their investment.

It's kind of a flashback to the days when Pres. Bush's brother Neil used his connections to sell his Cow (Curriculum on Wheels) to public school districts.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

After being fired by KIPP for sexual misconduct, Feinberg is back in business.

Mike Feinberg was fired from KIPP in February over allegations of sexual misconduct with a child. Somehow, it took 14 years for KIPP to discover that one of its co-founders had been sexually involved with former students.

But now Feinberg is back in the school privatization swing. After a quick rehab job, underwritten by the the Texas School Venture Fund (Feinberg's own creation) he has teamed up with veteran school voucher warrior Howard Fuller to start a new consulting group whose stated goal is, "helping educators create new schools and assisting single-site schools and existing networks of schools in opening new campuses." Feinberg says, he wants to work at least in part with KIPP alumni who want to start their own schools.

Feinberg is launching the new organization with Texas billionaire, a self-described "conservative communitarian," and long-time charter school supporter, Leo Linbeck III.

Howard Fuller
This will also be Fuller's attempt at a comeback since his right-wing patrons pulled their funding from his anti-union, pro-voucher group, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

Feinberg was fired after being accused of sexually abusing a student in the late 1990s, but the allegation didn't surface until 2017, according to KIPP.

KIPP Houston Public Schools and an independent law firm hired by the network investigated the claims, and found "the allegation to have credibility". During the course of the investigation, the law firm, WilmerHale, turned up two other misconduct allegations against Feinberg by adult employees of KIPP Houston, both of whom were former students of the charter network. One reached a settlement, while the other allegation could not be corroborated, according to KIPP officials at the time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Another flop for the Gates Foundation and for top-down reform

  "I was pretty naive about how long the process would take." -- Bill Gates
“I want the foundation to be the neutral broker that’s able to bring up the real data of what is working and what’s not working." -- Melinda Gates
Far from being an honest broker, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's biggest private foundation, has had the greatest influence on shaping the nation’s education policies.

During the past two decades the power philanthropy has leveraged billions of its tax-exempt dollars to inject reform policies into the public system with no public oversight or accountability.

Bill Gates, one of the top three richest men in the world, supports public education the way a rope supports a hanging man. When his imposed reform ideas fail to produce the desired measurable results, the mega-foundation does a few mea culpas and then pulls its funding, moves on to their next big reform idea and leaves school districts and even their own spawned reform groups hanging in the wind.

Last week, RAND, hired as evaluators by Gates himself, issued a massive and mostly negative evaluation of the Gates Foundation’s overblown effort to redesign teacher evaluation, compensation, and employment practices in three school districts and four charter school management organizations.

Now we're hearing reports out of their Seattle headquarters that a major shift in education investments is taking place, away from teacher evaluation to curriculum reform. What that means is anyone's guess.

This from teacher/blogger Larry Ferlazzo:
The Gates Foundation came out with a report this morning admitting that their heavy-handed, and expensive, focus on teacher evaluation was a failure. The report’s authors suggest that maybe other factors were more important for students which, of course, just about any teacher could have told Gates before the money was spent.
Back in 2016, the foundation promised there would be a major shift in its modus operandi. Melinda Gates, announced the fund was backing away from its support for Common Core standards in light of the political shift from federal to state mandates under The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

She claimed that she and her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, "learned an important lesson" from the pushback against CCSS in recent years after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting national education standards, claiming such a massive initiative could not be successful unless teachers and parents believe in it.
“Community buy-in is huge,” Melinda Gates told the Washington Post, adding that cultivating such support for big cultural shifts in education takes time. “It means that in some ways, you have to go more slowly.”
The term "buy-in", when used by corporate-style reformers, is revealing, not just in the way it portrays the school community simply as consumers of reform, but also in the way they see themselves as reform's progenitors. 

Like Donald Trump, for whom he's expressed affinity,  Bill Gates is a great believer in strong-man, autocratic leadership and finds democratic processes too messy, expensive and time consuming for someone with his economic leverage.

It seems like every couple of years faced with stinging criticism from those most affected by their reform interventions, Gates Foundation leaders go through similar "self-adjustments" with no public accountability, while sticking to their same wrong-headed theory of change.They tweak their top-down reform funding strategies, admit (or not) they've bet on the wrong horse, leave old projects hanging, and promise next time, to be "better listeners". But how real is their self-crit? It's usually limited being "too impatient" or "too naive" about great amount of time it takes to bring the uninsightful, unwashed masses to buy into their interventions.

Back in 2012, the line under the Obama administration and with Arne Duncan running the DOE, was that bad teachers were the problem, Gates shifted its focus to discovering who these thousands of bad teacher were and how to replace them with "good teachers".

This from Chalfbeat:
Bad teachers were the problem; good teachers were the solution. It was a simplified binary, but the idea and the research it drew on had spurred policy changes across the country, including a spate of laws establishing new evaluation systems designed to reward top teachers and help weed out low performers.
Behind that effort was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which backed research and advocacy that ultimately shaped these changes.
Remember when they ditched their $2B investment in high-school reform and small schools, claiming that their pet projects didn't produce fast enough results (standardized test scores)? Bill Gates' 2009 letter, which was posed as a self-critical evaluation, actually blamed the Gates-funded schools themselves for not being "radical" enough and indirectly, the teacher unions for not being faithful to his top-down model.

While it's become the poster child for top-down reform, the problem goes way beyond the Gates Foundation. It goes to the very nature of power philanthropies, who use their concentrated wealth to erode public space and public decision making.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blackstone's Schwarzman tries to buy a public high school

Stephen A. Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone, and Mary Barra, chief executive of General Motors, with President Trump at a Strategy and Policy Forum meeting in February. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times        
Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief operating officer of the global private equity firm the Blackstone Group, has amassed a $12.2 billion fortune, according to Forbes magazine. As the largest alternative investment firm in the world, Blackstone specializes in private equity, credit and hedge fund investment strategies. Blackstone has around $434 billion under its management and is a big player in teacher pension funds.

A friend of President Trump, Schwarzman graduated from Abington (PA) Senior High School in 1965, and 40 years later, in 2005, donated $400,000 so the school’s football stadium could be renamed for him.

Billionaires have been involved for years in education, donating parts of their fortunes to schools and to education initiatives, raising objections from advocates who believe the wealthy should not be allowed to use their money to influence the conduct of public education.

But Schwarzman had more than a giant tax break in mind this time around, when he offered his alma mater a $25 million "gift". He also demanded the following in return:
  • The school would receive a new name — the Abington Schwarzman High School — and, “for the avoidance of doubt,” officials would make sure the name was displayed, “at a minimum,” at the front and above each of the six entrances.
  • Parts of the campus would be named after his brothers, former high school track coach and two friends on the track team.
  • Schwarzman’s portrait would appear “prominently” in the school.
  • Schwarzman would have input into the construction of the new campus, which is set to be done in 2022, including the right to approve contractors.
  • He would receive regular reports on the progress of a computer literacy initiative.
  • The agreement would be kept secret unless Schwarzman approved its release.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The board approved the pact without community input, and when residents learned that Schwarzman had essentially bought naming rights to the school, they pushed to get details, the story said. The board waited a few weeks after approving the contract to release it to the public — but by then, the board had rescinded the agreement and promised to vote on a new pact with most of the earlier demands stripped out.
 “When you’re that rich and giving those level of gifts, you’re really used to getting what you want,” said Maria Di Mento, a staff writer and expert on big philanthropic donations at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all done without considering how bad it was going to look to outsiders,” Di Mento said. “This is a public school district. This is not Yale.”